Pleas for help laying off the whistlesBISMARCK — Even the locomotive engineers think today’s train horns are too loud. BNSF Railroad engineer John Risch of Bismarck was among a crowd testifying to legislators Wednesday for state aid to subsidize North Dakota cities’ “quiet rail” efforts.
By: Janell Cole, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK — Even the locomotive engineers think today’s train horns are too loud.
BNSF Railroad engineer John Risch of Bismarck was among a crowd testifying to legislators Wednesday for state aid to subsidize North Dakota cities’ “quiet rail” efforts.
“We railroad workers wholeheartedly support this bill. We like blowing the whistle even less than people like hearing them,” he said. Train horns today “are louder than they have ever been” and engineers are bound by federal rules to blow them without exception and at full volume, he said, noting he now wears hearing aids.
Risch was joined by homeowners and business owners from Bismarck, Mandan, Jamestown and Medora who told a Senate committee in passionate terms how disruptive and harmful modern train horns are, complaining about the “deafening,” “heart-stopping,” “ear-piercing,” “ridiculously loud,” “unbearable” noise that hurts business, ruins summer days and harms hearing.
The hearing was in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.
Senate Bill 2338’s concept is rooted in the fuel taxes railroads in North Dakota pay on the diesel they buy, just as car and truck drivers pay fuel taxes on their gas and diesel. Fuel taxes are used to maintain roads, but, as Risch pointed out, he’s been an engineer for 30 years “and I’ve yet to drive a locomotive down a highway.”
Bill sponsor Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, wants the railroads’ fuel taxes made available to cities to help them install quiet rail crossing protection. Federal law allows trains to pass through those crossings without blowing their horns.
Jamestown and Bismarck voters last year rejected city leaders’ plans to use city tax dollars to put in the special safe crossings, and Jamestown business and city leaders were at Wednesday’s hearing in force.
So far, Fargo is the only city in the state that has installed quiet rail crossings.
One Jamestown resident, Dan Buchanan, has been active in the quiet rail efforts there. He said he can’t interview clients in his office near the downtown railroad tracks when the trains go through town 26 times a day, sometimes two at a time, or enjoy a meal at a downtown restaurant with train horns blowing. The investments he and others have made in restoring historic downtown Jamestown buildings are at risk unless something can be done to squelch train horns, he said.
Medora business owner and mayor Doug Ellison said the most frequent complaint he gets from visitors to the tourist town is about loud train horns. Many people tell him they will not stay overnight there because of the noise. With fewer than 100 permanent residents, there is no way the city of Medora could afford to pay for quiet rail crossings themselves, which can cost a half-million dollars or more each.
Melissa Rosales of Bismarck’s Highland Acres neighborhood, testified, voice shaking with emotion, that she doesn’t understand why trains are exempt from the city’s noise ordinance.
Another railroad worker, Mike Muscha of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, also testified for the bill. He and Risch said loud train horns do not make crossings safer. Fargo and Moorhead have not had any rail crossing deaths since the special crossings were put in last year.
Not everyone favors the bill. The North Dakota Farm Bureau doesn’t approve because they think highway funds need to be used for highways only.
The committee took no action Wednesday.